Soft Hackle Season

August 5, 2018 – We see the same thing about this time every year. As summer sunshine warms the waters of Moosehead Lake and its tributaries trout and salmon begin retreating to the lakes seeking cooler waters in the deeper areas where smelt hangout. Many of the E.O. residents either drop back into Indian Pond or pass through the fish ladder in the dam to Moosehead Lake. Although fish still remain in the river, trout and salmon numbers in the rivers fall off. 10-12″ salmon that have spent the first year and a half of their life decide a diet of only insects is not enough and head to the lake to seek it’s cooler water and begin feeding on a steady diet of smelt, the high protein food they need to mature into adult fish. The same goes for the Roach & Moose River. When cooler fall weather conditions arrives the colder water will begin luring spawning age fish back into the rivers.

Our Fisheries biologists monitor fish passage at the East Outlet dam every few years to have a close-up look at the overall health of the East Outlet fishery. We spent a day with them a few years ago and put together this video about the passage of fish through the East Outlet fish ladder.
We think you’ll find it very interesting.

The West Branch of the Penobscot below Ripogenus Dam is an all together different story. It’s a tailwater and a very unique landlocked salmon fishery where fish are born and spend their entire life in a river environment. There is no fish ladder at Rip Dam so fish are stuck in the river. The reason they thrive is the passage of smelt through the power plant turbines and through flood gates during high water events. There are enough smelt dumped into the river to maintain a large, healthy population of salmon and trout. It’s a unique situation that exists in very few places.
Because it is a tailwater fishery angling remains very good during the heat of summer. Caddis and stone fly hatches hold up and fish continue feeding on top all summer long. Early morning and late evening are the best times for hatches and spotting feeding fish.  Also West Branch water levels this season have been excellent for both waders and drift boats.

Wherever you fish this time of season it becomes harder and harder to tease fish to the surface for a tiny dry. There is very little daytime hatching and fish don’t want to exert much energy getting a tiny amount of food. They can get what they need poking around the bottom searching for nymphs. But they are all still looking up for one more easy meal.

This is the time of season when soft hackle wets can make the difference. To the fish they look like a dead or cripple bug just below the surface and much easier to grab than a dry sitting high on the surface film where they have to poke their nose above the surface to try and grab a bug.

Soft hackles are simple to fish. Start with a short line, cast 45 degree downstream, make an upstream mend to straighten things out and swing the little wet across the current. A tight line is essential. If nothing becomes of that swing pull a couple feet or less off your reel and repeat the process with your soft hackle a bit further downstream. Cover as much water as possible so if there is a hungry fish looking for a tidbit it will see your fly. Fish all the water you can reach then either change spots or change flies. Your choice of soft hackle wet fly is also simple. Pick out whatever body color the present caddis hatches are. At this time of the season around here it’s orange, tan or black body caddis. We are raising way more fish to soft hackle wets than dries and hooking more fish as well. They are an easy target. With one flip of its tail a fish can make an gentle sip and have your bug in its lips with lvery ittle effect. When it happens you probably would see the take. When the fish heads back to the bottom all you feel is weight until your hook finds home and your salmon goes airborne. Soft hackle wets are a game changer especially in the heat of summer.

Enjoy your time on the water.